Sam Houston’s all-Southland Conference setter Tayler Gray admits that volleyball hasn’t always been her first love.
Playing T-Ball on an otherwise all-boys team in elementary school was the Huntsville native’s first experience with sports.
“I loved baseball but hated volleyball,” Gray recalled. Of course, with Tayler being the daughter of Sam Houston head volleyball coach Brenda Gray, things changed.
“Finally, in seventh grade, volleyball began to grow on me. I saw how much my mother cared about the sport,” Tayler Gray, who now ranks among the Bearkats’ all-time top 10 setters, said.
The Grays, mother and daughter, have proven to be a winning combination for Sam Houston State.
Tayler is one of three seniors on the 2013 club that looks to contend for an NCAA championships playoff berth when Southland post-season action begins Friday, Nov. 22, in Corpus Christi.
She and fellow seniors Haley Neisler and Lauren Bohlen have been part of four Bearkat teams that have rolled up 72 victories during the past four years, the most wins by any group of seniors since 1997.
The trio played important roles on last year’s Southland Conference championship squad, the program’s first title in more than a decade. They have been members of SHSU squads that have qualified for the league’s post-season tournament each of their four years
In September, Brenda Gray picked up her 600th career coaching victory. She is one of only 26 head coaches in NCAA Division I volleyball to pass the 600 victory mark.
“Playing volleyball for Sam Houston State and my mother has been a dream come true,” Tayler said. “I wasn’t expecting to go anywhere else but Sam Houston State. Coach offered to have me walk on and see how things turned out. It’s turned out to be the best time ever.”
Tayler was a two-time first team all-district setter and libero at Huntsville High School and was her team’s "Most Valuable Player" as a senior. She enrolled at Sam Houston in January, 2010 after high school graduation. Gray already has earned her bachelor’s degree in health and now is working on a master’s degree. An Academic All-Southland performer, she was an NCAA Academic All-America nominee this year with her 3.82 overall grade point average.
Coach Gray, also a Sam Houston graduate, states that her biggest sports thrills have come from seeing both Tayler and her older brother Timothy play for her alma mater. From 2004 to 2007, Timothy was a starting pitcher for the Kats baseball team.
“Having my son pitch for the Bearkat baseball team and my daughter as our setter has been an indescribable pleasure,” Brenda Gray said. “The passion for Sam Houston is deep in our family.”
Tayler played mostly as a libero (defensive specialist) as a freshman and sophomore.
“Fundamentally, I wasn’t ready to be a setter when I started college ball,” Tayler said. “But, before my junior year we really worked hard and fine-tuned my skills. I remember the first night I was going to start at setter. I was really nervous. But as I parked outside the coliseum, I got a text from a friend that said ‘don’t wory, just go at it.’ That’s what I did.”
In two years as starting setter, Tayler Gray has assisted on more than 2,200 of her teammate’s kills to climb to ninth in all-time assists at Sam Houston. She also stands among the program’s top 20 players in career digs.
“I like to be in charge,” Tayler said. “It’s great because Coach and I get to feeling the same things.”
Mother and daughter saw the 2012 Sam Houston State volleyball team go 15-3 in conference play and win the Southland regular season title. Brenda Gray was honored as the league’s “Coach of the Year.”
Both Grays will be out to add one more accomplishment to their four years together when the Kats head to the Southland tournament in Corpus Christi – earning an NCAA post-season berth.
Tayler’s brother Timothy helped lead Sam Houston to an NCAA berth his senior year in 2007. The pitcher picked up the save in a 7-3 victory over Lamar in the second game at the Southland and was the winning pitcher for the Bearkats in the finals win over Texas State. Brenda Gray coached NCAA Division I playoff teams in 1993 and 1996 and squads that earned NCAA Division II final four berths in 1984 and 1985.
“I remember when Coach (Mark)Johnson put the ball in Timmy’s hand at the Southland baseball tournament,” Taylor said. “It was great getting to see him go to the NCAA after winning in the Southland finals.”
Definitely Tayler’s feelings for the sport of volleyball have changed since she was a youngster.
“I really enjoy playing volleyball. I love it,” Tayler said. “We’re a family unit. I love every one of my teammates.”
Sam Houston State closes out the 2013 regular season schedule with road matches at Houston Baptist Thursday Nov. 14 and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Saturday, Nov. 16. The Southland tournament begins Friday, Nov. 22 with the finals on Sunday, Nov. 24.